The Fourth Industrial Revolution & Artificial Intelligence

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production – mainly supporting the agricultural economy. The Second utilised electric power to create mass production in which factories flourished. The Third focused on electronic and Information Technology (IT) to automate production.

Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third – namely the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is mainly characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be further multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

AI is an example of an emerging technology which is synonymous with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It has evolved from the obscure to the mainstream. It has touched our everyday lives even without us knowing it. AI is not just restricted to the building of autonomous or self-driven cars or Augmented Reality, but has been rather synonymous to our everyday lives.

Consumers are touched by AI every day.

Did you know that when you hold your smartphone, AI tech is already embedded in it? Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game – any of these can now be done in the comfort and ease of wherever we are.

When Google Photos groups images of people using facial recognition, it deploys the deep learning techniques of AI. Chatbots that converse with you in Yahoo, Facebook and other sites use AI. Alibaba harnesses deep learning to find a handbag matching the one in the photo you uploaded to its shopping site. Digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant use AI to provide information or execute tasks on a commercial level.

Wearables like fitness trackers have already invaded our lives. Used mostly by fitness enthusiasts like runners, cyclists or maybe even sleep deprived executives looking to better regulate their sleep patterns.

Financial institutions for example, use AI for fraud detection. The systems compare normal banking behaviour across billions of transactions with outlier activities and will alert the bank involved should there be fraudulent use of cards. From a marketing perspective too, AI can be applied into computing systems to better understand the needs of customers and for businesses to better fine-tune their business strategy and marketing approach in this new era.

In 2019, Singapore announced that its work in artificial intelligence governance and ethics has won a top award at the prestigious World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Prizes in Geneva during the World Economic Forum.

Singapore’s AI Governance and Ethics initiatives aim to build an ecosystem of trust to support AI adoption. These include: (i) Asia’s first Model AI Governance Framework released in January 2019;
(ii) an international and industry-led Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data formed in June 2018; and (iii) a Research Programme on the Governance of AI and Data Use established in partnership with the Singapore Management University in September 2018. These initiatives advance Singapore’s vision to be a leading Digital Economy and Smart Nation through balancing business innovation and consumer trust and confidence in adopting AI.

The Model Framework maps out the key ethical principles and practices that apply to common AI deployment processes across these four areas:

1. Internal governance structures and measures: Adapting existing or setting up internal governance structure and measures to incorporate values, risks, and responsibilities relating to algorithmic decision-making.

2. Determining AI Decision-making model: A methodology to aid organisations in setting its risk appetite for the use of AI – determining acceptable risks and identifying appropriate decision-making models for implementing AI.

3. Operations Management: Issues to be considered when developing, selecting and maintaining AI models, including data management.

4. Customer Relationship Management: Strategies for communicating to consumers and customers, and the management of relationships with them.

Minister for Communications and Information Mr S Iswaran said, “Singapore’s win of the WSIS Award is affirmation of our approach that AI practices must be transparent, explainable, and fair. These are important principles that will guide businesses in implementing AI solutions that are human-centric, while spurring innovation in a digital economy.”

At the organisational level, it would be important to build trust and confidence with regard to AI use and at workplaces, important for employees to understand the implications of AI, and to better understand its applications and benefits in their work process.

At the Community level, it is then important to demystify AI – what it could do, how it applies to everyday life, debunk myths and highlight its beneficial uses upon society and also what are the data and privacy implications and concerns highlighted by members of the public.

Singapore thus strikes a balance in the realm of data regulations to ensure that personal data is protected yet business innovation is promoted so that the rights of organisations to collect and use data for product innovation, service improvements, and boosting and understanding customer needs and wants are protected. This would send a clear signal to companies where the OB (out of bounds) markers are and allow them a more flexible space to innovate using data within the specified boundaries – all the while, safeguarding personal data.

On the whole, there are a few main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution and AI have on business – on customer expectations, product enhancement, collaborative innovation, and even on organisational forms. AI helps to improve how customers are served, transform how businesses are traditionally run and enhances the entire business ecosystem.

Physical products and services, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organisational forms will have to be rethought.

Now, the focus is less on how humans complete mundane tasks faster and more on completely freeing humans from performing manual or process-oriented tasks. Artificial intelligence’s part in this will be to free workers from large-scale intellectual tasks defined by gathering, analysing and acting on massive amounts of data. This will raise the barrier to intellectual entry in the workforce but also elevate workers to operate at a higher, more strategic level.

Different AIs are contributing to this revolution in different ways. AIs that specialise in crunching data and offering insights are making workers smarter and able to act faster in scenarios where, in the past, they would have had to spend a lot of time with basic number-crunching and data entry. On the other hand, autonomous AIs are playing an even larger role by taking on the implementation part of that scenario.

This type of AI, left to its own devices, not only collects, interprets and reports on data, but it also adjusts its operations based on its conclusions. Humans set up initial parameters and need only step in when there is a significant shift in business operations.

All in all, AI is no longer exotic and rare.

It has become increasingly part of our personal and professional lives. And it has begun to reshape markets. According to the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence is ushering in the Fourth
Industrial Revolution – the first major workplace transformation to focus on streamlining intellectual labour in addition to manual labour. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting almost every industry in every country and creating massive change in a non-linear way at unprecedented speed.

But the real revolution will not occur with the introduction of these technologies into the workplace; it will happen when workers understand that AI systems are less like tools than they are like potential collaborators, and that all parties can derive benefits and expand their opportunities for growth. AI should not be seen as a replacement to current work processes but rather a complementary tool to augment the current pre-existing work realities today.

The applications of AI are indeed tremendous, but it is also up to us as individuals, employees, and responsible members of the society to welcome and shape its applications accordingly. ⬛


Hamidah Aidillah is Founder of Parrot Social, a data analytics firm which uses artificial intelligence to help businesses and institutions have a deeper understanding about online patterns, and predict emerging trends of the future.

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